MILWAUKEE -- In a game that repeatedly threatened to get away from them, more than two-thirds of the way through a season that arguably was doing exactly the same, the Cardinals made a stand.
The newly reconfigured St. Louis bullpen pitched six shutout innings, and Lance Berkman blooped a two-out RBI single in the top of the 11th as the Cardinals pulled out a desperately needed and hotly contested 8-7 win against the Brewers. St. Louis pulled back within 2 1/2 games of first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central after it appeared that the Redbirds might fall a season-high 4 1/2 out of first.
Kyle McClellan picked a perfect time to grow re-accustomed to bullpen work, getting four key outs for the win. McClellan recorded arguably the game's biggest out in the bottom of the 10th, getting Ryan Braun to ground out with a runner on third to force another inning. He also struck out Prince Fielder to open the 11th, but a single chased him. Octavio Dotel closed it out for his first save with the Cardinals.
Matt Holliday scored the winning run, and just about created it all by himself. Holliday, who earlier hit his second home run in as many nights, beat out a two-out infield single to keep the top of the 11th alive. He stole second to get into position and scored when Berkman dropped a perfectly placed bleeder into shallow left field.
"It is a game that we had to win, so I'll take it," Berkman said.
The game lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours and was surely one of the most memorable of the year for the Cardinals for a variety of reasons -- some good and some not so good. They let a 6-3 lead get away but twice staved off serious Brewers threats. Yadier Molina was ejected in the top of the 10th after arguing a called third strike and making contact with home-plate umpire Rob Drake. Before that, tempers threatened to erupt after Braun was hit by a pitch in apparent retaliation for Albert Pujols being hit.
In other words, it was just a little bit more than what the Cards and Brewers have come to expect when they play one another.
"That game was full of so many players and pitchers on both sides that it was a pleasure to be a part of it," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "That little nonsense [with Pujols and Braun] should not take away from the game."
Starter Jaime Garcia was a bit shaky and also was hurt by some iffy defense, allowing seven runs -- three earned -- in five innings. Garcia also hit a three-run homer, though, the first of his Major League career on a night that truly had just about everything.
The relief corps starred all night for the visitors, no one more than Lance Lynn. The rookie did remarkable cleanup work in a situation that very nearly spiraled completely out of control in the seventh.
Jason Motte hit Braun with a pitch to start the inning, on his second attempt to come inside with a purpose pitch. Marc Rzepczynski followed with a walk to Fielder, and Lynn allowed an infield single to load the bases. Yet he escaped with no runs scoring, thanks to a popup, a force play and a strikeout.
"That's the time when you really need to come through with a hit there," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "Everybody is fired up, and you need to bear down and somehow get those runs in."
In the previous half-inning, Pujols had been hit in the left hand by a pitch from Takashi Saito. The pitch was up and in and caused Pujols significant pain. La Russa denied that the Cardinals were trying to hit Braun, but acknowledged that they did hope to "send a message."
Motte's first pitch went outside, but his next came well in on Braun, the Brewers' No. 3 hitter. The third offering hit Braun, giving him first base and thoroughly irritating the home team and crowd. Yet Lynn escaped, leaving the rivals to battle for four more innings.
New Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez struck out Ryan Theriot with the bases loaded in the eighth, and John Axford worked around an error in the ninth. With two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth, Felipe Lopez sent a fly ball into shallow left field that looked like it could end the game. But new Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal gave tremendous chase and leaped to reel the ball in, forcing extra innings.
"I've seen that explosion before," La Russa said. "I thought he had a chance because he broke so quickly on it and he's got so much talent."
That the game turned contentious should have surprised no one. A night earlier, the Cardinals expressed frustration over what they felt was gamesmanship by the Brewers in the form of manipulating video boards behind home plate. And going back much further than that, there has been no love lost between the two division rivals over the course of several years.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.